Last week, CCM artist Matthew West debuted a new single at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Nashville. Unlike his other hits, West’s latest offering is a satirical take on a piece of advice common among evangelicals: “Modest Is Hottest.”
Written as a letter from a father to his daughters, West croons:
Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad.
Response to the song was swift. Some loved and shared it widely, while others critiqued what they saw as underlying themes of misogyny and the policing of women’s bodies. There are plenty of reasons to object to the phrase “Modest is hottest.” But this particular song has less to do with modesty and more to do with the challenges and insecurities that modern dads face as their daughters mature.
“My daughter’s [sic] might actually disown me after this one,” West joked in a Tweet announcing the music video. “It’s for all of the fathers out there whose daughters are joining TikTok and starting to date. The struggle is real.”
In the opening shot of the video, the West daughters sit on the couch wearing shorts, legs fully exposed, and continue doing exactly what they want to do despite their father’s singing in the background. They lay out in the sun, make online dance videos, style a tank top, and roll their eyes when dad claims that “what the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks.”
Obviously, this is not what “the boys” love. It is what boys who have become fathers love.
Seen through this lens, the song sits within an emerging genre of viral content: the funny family video that satirizes the trials of parenthood and family life in song. In this respect, West’s “Modest Is Hottest” tracks with common themes in the “family values” vlog genre. In this case, it’s the outdated father trying to connect with his growing daughters.
But his song is only superficially about fatherly angst. If you look closer, it exposes a limited understanding of the father-daughter relationship. And that understanding is rooted in a narrow nuclear family model—as opposed to the kinship model found in Scripture, which recognizes both the nuclear and the extended family. In our contemporary setting, we often equate daughterhood with childhood, which means daughterhood functionally ends when a woman leaves home or marries.
With that assumption in mind, fathers today often want to delay or resist the natural maturation of girls to womanhood because it means losing them. (See Bob Carlisle’s 1995 hit “Butterfly Kisses.”)
We see this same resistance and angst in West’s song. The opening lines allude to both the passage of time and marriage:
Dear daughter, it’s me your father
I think it's time we had a talk
The boys are coming round ’cause you're beautiful
And it’s all your mother’s fault.
It's not that West doesn’t want his daughters to be attractive. It’s that he knows what happens when a young man falls for a young woman. It’s what happened when he fell in love with their mother. He married her and started his own, separate family.
Here, we see how the primacy of the nuclear family in the modern West puts pressure on father-daughter relationships. Lacking a vision for extended kinship networks, we, along with West, can’t quite see how an adult daughter who’s married or moved away from home might relate to her father. So a young woman’s relationship to other males creates something of a zero-sum game for her dad. If she marries and has children, she exchanges her identity as “daughter” for “wife” and often “mother.”
And boys beginning to recognize her beauty is the first step in this process.
When the stakes are that high, it’s no wonder fathers want their daughters to wear turtlenecks and a sensible pair of slacks. It’s no wonder they make jokes about having shotguns ready when potential suitors come around. It’s no wonder they want to continue to think of daughters as “Daddy’s Little Princess.”
Of course the father-daughter relationship will change as a woman matures. This is inescapable. But it need not end or be a source of loss.
Where I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, extended kin networks are the norm. And while correlation is not causation, I’ve noticed a particular linguistic feature: Daughters continue to call their fathers “Daddy” well beyond childhood. Daughters who’ve gone onto their own homes, careers, and marriages still speak of their “daddies.”
Scripture too gives us a vision of extended, interlacing family relationships, where a woman doesn’t have to choose between being a daughter and a wife (and often a mother). She can be both precisely because she’s not an extension of either her father or her husband. She can mature past childhood into womanhood without the risk of losing the father-daughter relationship when she creates a new relationship with a husband.
Scriptural mentions of daughterhood often represent daughters as adults, not children. In Numbers 27, for example, the grown, married daughters of Zelophehad—Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah, and Tirzah—petition Moses to receive their deceased father’s land rather than have it pass out of their family—a petition God tells Moses to grant.
Job’s daughters are named as more fair than other women, but perhaps even more significantly, Job gives them inheritance with their brothers (Job 42:14-15). Psalm 144:12 describes grown daughters “like pillars carved to adorn a palace”—a source of both stability and beauty. And Luke 2 introduces us to the widowed octogenarian prophetess Anna as “the daughter of Penuel” (v. 36).
But perhaps the most interesting biblical reference to daughters coming into full maturity is found in Joel 2:28–29:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
Fulfilled at the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2 records how the Spirit of God descended on those gathered in the upper room, filling both men and women with the power to do what they were called to do.
Perhaps then, the best way to grapple with the changing dynamics of the father-daughter relationship is not to try to stop a daughter’s growth or to chase boys away but simply to embrace the change.
This requires a vision of a woman’s life that goes beyond her being handed off from one man to another. It requires understanding daughters not as the pets of their fathers but as pillars in the palace of God who are vital, strong links between generations in both this life and the life to come. And ultimately, it means honoring them as daughters of their heavenly Father, recognizing that his Spirit dwells within them, equipping and empowering them to every good work.
Hannah Anderson is the author of Made for More, All That’s Good, and Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul.
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